Social Media Sparks the Arab Spring

Lauren Dahlberg-Seeth

This past year, the world bore witness to groundbreaking developments in several Arab nations. From our living rooms, we witnessed protests and civil wars across the Middle East—people banding together in their efforts to topple corrupt regimes and oppose restrictive government policies. But what was almost more revolutionary than the uprisings themselves was the method by which they were organized and publicized.

Social media outlets like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook were used heavily by citizens in the Middle East—as well as worldwide—as a means of spreading messages of freedom and democracy. Throughout the Arab Spring, social networking played a vital role in organizing protests, highlighting government injustices, and swaying public opinion, ultimately demonstrating how immense social media’s role has become in 21st century politics.

In this day and age, everybody is “plugged in.” Media outlets have become an essential part of spreading news and political ideas worldwide, and the Arab Spring illustrates of this newly developed norm. From protests and demonstrations organized through text messages and Twitter posts, to YouTube videos capturing both revolution and government brutality, it is clear that social media played a huge role in the promotion of the revolutions in several Arab nations, as well as their ultimate successes in Egypt and Tunisia.

Had revolutionaries not had access to these social media outlets, the Arab Spring would not have been nearly as successful. Websites and blogs planted the seed of revolutionary thought that eventually spread across the Middle East. Social media outlets unified the public, allowing them to reach their common goal by creating a means for people to organize their ideas. Without them, the Middle East would not have been able to come together to fight for its freedom because they would not have been unified in their efforts.

Months before revolutions began, citizens of Egypt and Tunisia were accessing anonymous blog networks in which people could post free of censorship. Although the regimes in both countries quickly caught wind of these forums and shut them down, the ideas of democracy continued to spread.

As government forces brutally attacked more and more protestors, bystanders began capturing these injustices on camera and uploading them to Facebook and YouTube. One deeply distressing video was highly influential. It showed a Tunisian hospital in chaos: doctors desperately attempting to treat the injured and the horrifying image of a dead young man with his brains spilling out of his skull. Videos like this caused the protests to escalate to a full-scale revolution.
Rebel leaders created a network of their own by organizing political action through mass texts, tweets, and Facebook posts. Recent studies show that over three million Twitter posts, gigabytes of YouTube content, and thousands of blog posts played a major role in shaping the Arab Spring.

The revolutions in the Middle East demonstrate social media’s impact on the political world. Modern political ideas must now be media-boosted in order to be successful. The irony between this newly developed norm and the predictions of mass censorship seen in countless works including George Orwell’s novel 1984, is apparent. As we move further into the 21st century it’s clear that social media will be not be an outlet for government control, as many in the past believed. Websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube will continue to be resources for worldwide news and ideas. As for the Arab Spring, it seems that, from now on, the revolution will in fact be televised.